Monday, October 19, 2009

Coming Soon:
The Karloff Blogathon

November 23 is Boris Karloff's birthday, and the blogosphere will celebrate with a weeklong Blogathon organized by Pierre Fournier of Frankensteinia. This blog and 40-50 others will be celebrating the life and movies of Boris Karloff with reviews and informative articles of all kinds.

If you have a blog that might be able to take part, why don't you sign up to join the parade of posts? Click here for details abot the Blogathon and how you can be part of it.

Frankenstein returns to monster-making in the far-away future of... 1970!

Frankenstein 1970
Starring: Boris Karloff, Don Berry, Rudolph Anders, Jana Lund, Charlotte Austin, Tom Duggan and Norbert Schiller
Director: Howard W. Koch
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

As his family fortune runs out, an aging and disfigured Baron Frankenstein (Karloff)gives a brash TV producer (Berry) permission to shoot a monster movie in and around his castle. However, when he improves upon his forebears old monster-making ways with atomic technology, the television crew and actors become an easy source of body parts.

"Frankenstein 1970" was made to cash in on the revived interest in the classic monsters generated by the beautiful color horror films from Hammer, most notably "Curse of Frankenstein." While it opens with great promise--with a shambling monster chasing a buxom peasant lass into a pond and then drowning her in what is one of the most intense openings to any monster movie of this vintage--it quickly starts showing its extreme low-budget roots, as well as settling into a pace that is just a little too slow for its own good.

That's not to say the film doesn't have some great moments, like the scene where lead camera man and the starlet are setting up a shot in the crypts under the castle while the monster lurks in the shadows, the scene when the Baron talks about what happened to an inquisitive commander in the Nazi concentration camp where he was tortured during the war, and the scene where the monster claims its first victim. But the material between these moments is a little drab and run-of-the-mill. Nothing is terribly bad, but, on the same note, nothing is exceptionally good.

Among the cast, Karloff is definitely the best, but there isn't anyone here who doesn't do a decent job. Karloff once again manages to take a sneering, leering character and imbue a little touch of humanity into him, with the Baron initially coming across as somewhat sympathetic. (Our sympathy for him quickly evaporates as he reveals himself to be utterly evil and homicidally insane.)

Although... as much as we recognize Baron Frankenstein's evil, we can't help but appreciate that he has created a monster that is disposing of some thoroughly annoying film industry stereotypes. We can also appreciate the Baron's frustration when the monster accidentally kills the one non-annoying member of the production crew.

A flawed, but still entertaining movie, it's a relatively obscure Karloff outing that makes the "Karloff and Lugosi Horror Classics" four-movie DVD collection worth the asking price almost by itself. It is also a great chance for Karloff and Frankenstein fans to see him play a Frankenstein instead of a Monster of Frankenstein.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Karloff is the blunt instrument of evil ambition in 'Tower of London'

Tower of London (1939)
Starring: Basil Rathbone, Vincent Price, Ian Hunter, Boris Karloff, Nan Grey, John Sutton and Barbara O'Neil
Director: Rowland V. Lee
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

The vicious and powerhungry Richard, Duke of Glocester (Rathbone) manipulates, bullies and murders his way to becoming King of England.

Most of you reading this are familiar with Shakespear's "Richard the Third." (And if you aren't, at least go rent one of the many movie and/or TV versions available. You're severely lacking in your cultural education). As such, the broad strokes of the story are familiar, but the particulars and the way they are executed in this version are not. Nor is the great fun you'll have watching Basil Rathbone portray a truly dispicable character, and Boris Karloff playing off him as an equally evil but pathetically devoted henchman.

Special notice should also be paid to Vincent Price, who plays the simpering drunkard Duke of Clarence. He easily holds his own against Rathbone in the scenes they share, and he displays an approach to the character different than any of his later performances and a style totally absent as he became more closely associated with horror films and thrillers.

Although included in Universal's Karloff Collection and touted as a horror film, it is not. It is a well-mounted period drama that features exceptional acting on the part of everyone on screen. The film does adhere to the hyperbolic claim on the set that Karloff is seen in one of his most frightening roles. Mord the Executioner is an exceptionally creepy character and Karloff draws out every ounce of Sinister to be found within him.